Tag Archives | Science Fiction

The Saga of David Friedman

Here’s a New Year’s Day (well, as things turned out, a day-after-New-Year’s-Day) treat for you Agoric Fanatics: a fascinating interview with economist and legal scholar David Friedman.

Topics covered include: free-market anarchism; the Society for Creative Anachronism; tectonic geology; the quasi-anarchic legal systems of medieval Iceland and 18th-century England; being converted to anarchism by Robert Heinlein; how getting a Ph.D. in physics led to being an economist at a law school; the joys of fomenting war and exploiting one’s students; how he repeatedly achieved promotion through violence against his predecessors; how to make medieval armor both for humans and for turnips; how innovations in fireplace design facilitated adultery; and the perils of central planning for wizards.

I also experimented with a new (for me) audiovisual thingie starting around 5:45 – check it out!


Mysterious Galaxy!

First in a series on indie bookstores in the San Diego area (my hometown)! In this episode, I chat with Matthew Berger, new co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy (website; facebook page), a bookstore featuring titles in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, etc., as well as merchandise, podcasts, author events, etc.


Closely Watched Brains; or, Czech Your Premises: A Bohemian Rhapsody

[cross-posted at POT and RCL]

Czech out this exclusive! expanded! three-part version of my 2019 Prague lecture on “Austro-Libertarian Themes in Three Prague Authors: Čapek, Kafka, and Hašek.”

(See the descriptions on YouTube for links to various items mentioned in my three discussions.)

In Part 1, on Karel Čapek (1890-1938), I discuss: intelligent, morally ambiguous salamanders; rebellious, morally ambiguous robots; the effects on supply and demand of unleashing the Absolute; a critique of the labour theory of Labour Day; the geometrical logic of imperial expansion; why police detectives have no interest in mysteries; the merits and demerits of government theme parks devoted to the preservation of Czech folkways; the magic word by means of which the English protect their property; why God can only be a witness and never a judge; the role of clumsiness in advancing civilisation; the benefits and hazards of replacing feet with wheels; inspirational workplace posters suitable for shackled newts; how I ran into one of Čapek’s robots in the lounge of the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center; and the crucifixion of Christ as a sensible protectionist measure.

Note: contrary to what I say in the video, I believe that the R.U.R. cover designed by Čapek’s brother Josef is not the one I show there, but instead this (rather better) one:

Incidentally, Josef Čapek also designed this Kropotkin cover:

On the subject of corrections, I think it may actually have been Paul Cantor rather than Ralph Raico who was in the company of my old stage partner in the Mises conference anecdote I tell. I’m not sure. Jeez, my memory is crap these days. Um, what was I saying?

In Part 2, on Franz Kafka (1883-1924), I discuss: theological versus political readings of Kafka’s vision of elusive, perpetually deferred authority; bureaucracy as hopelessly incompetent and out-of-touch, versus bureaucracy as all-pervasive surveillance; the dependence of rulership on those who rule; Stoic versus anti-Stoic readings of Seneca’s Medea; discovering Kafka through Marvel Comics (or not); and remembering Kropotkin but forgetting Nietzsche’s umbrella.

On second thought I don’t think the April 1982 issue of Epic Illustrated can have been my introduction to Kafka after all, as Dartmouth was running an Orson Welles film festival which I attended while I was living in Hanover NH, 1977-1981, which certainly included The Trial.

Speaking of which, here are some clips from the Welles movie:

I also meant to include this passage from Kafka on his own bureaucratic career (oh well): “What a fine thing it is to be a clerk at a town hall! Little work, adequate salary, plenty of leisure, excessive respect everywhere in the town …. and if I only could, I should like to give this entire dignity to the office cat to eat ….” (Still, at least his office had a cat; that seems like some solace.)

In Part 3, on Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923), I discuss: the perversities of bureaucratic incentives; the state as a parasite on private crime; the importance of providing every voter with a pocket aquarium; the dangers of displaying, or not displaying, portraits of the Emperor; access to one lavatory as a bribe for permission to reopen another lavatory; electoral campaigns as anarchist street theatre; justice in canine nomenclature; what happens when criminals go on strike; the forgotten economic costs of farting; the ethical, logistical, and grammatical aspects of assassinating Archduke Ferdinand; my success and the Soviets’ failure in deciphering Czech signage; and the economic transaction that I conducted with a nun in the men’s room of the Vatican.

And finally, here’s a clip from the movie version of Hašek’s novel The Good Soldier Švejk:


Meanwhile, in a Parallel Election

[cross-posted on POT, RCL, and facebook]

I voted!

No, not in the u.s. election – Ἀθηνᾶ κρείττων!

Nah, I voted for which book we will read next in the Auburn Science Fiction and Philosophy Reading Group.

This was a more cheerful and civilised affair than the u.s. election in at least seven ways:

1. Minority choices have no trouble getting on the ballot; any individual member of the group can nominate a book (or several), without having to collect multiple signatures on a petition.

2. The number of participants is small enough that any individual vote has an actual chance of making a decisive difference to the outcome.

3. Voting involves rank-ordering the candidates via an online Condorcet poll, so no one has to choose between voting for their favourite among the front runners and voting for their favourite absolutely.

4. We choose a new book every month or two, so there’s strict rotation in office with very short terms – no perpetually incumbent books.

5. The reading group is a purely voluntary association. If any members aren’t happy with the winning choice, and want to go off on their own to read and discuss a different book, the rest of us wouldn’t dream of trying to stop them, let alone telling them that by voting (or by not voting) they have committed themselves to reading the winning book.

6. All the books nominated look worthwhile, and I would be happy to read and discuss any of them.

7. Facebook has not been reminding me every few minutes to vote for the next book.

O idéal lointain!


Jurassic Chocolate Factory

There’s no earthly way of knowing
which direction we are going –
there’s no knowing where we’re rowing
or which way the river’s flowing –
not a speck of light is showing
so the danger must be growing
for the rowers keep on rowing
and they’re certainly not showing
any signs that they are slowing ….

I just finished watching Camp Cretaceous, an excellent animated spinoff series “for kids,” from Netflix, of the Jurassic Park/World franchise. (And yeah, I know, the Jurassic and Cretaceous are completely different eras, but whatever.) This trailer –

– makes the show seem more kiddified and comedic than it is. In fact, apart from some slight kiddification (mostly in the early episodes), it’s just as serious and intense, on the whole, as the live-action movies; despite the “for kids” branding, any kid who finds the movies too scary will likely find this too scary as well – and I suspect that no one (of whatever age) who enjoys the movies will find this series too tame, or not dark enough. I mean, it’s willing to go pretty dark. I would show a clip to make my point, but spoilers.

MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW:

The basic premise of the series is essentially a mash-up of Jurassic Park/World with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (I say Willy Wonka rather than Charlie because there’s a subplot about kids being bribed to perform industrial espionage that resembles a similar subplot in the first Wonka movie [Willy Wonka] that’s absent from the original book [Charlie].)

The similarities to the Wonka storyline are straightforward: six kids from different backgrounds win a worldwide contest for a behind-the-scenes trip to Jurassic World. But when they get there, they immediately start doing dumb things that would put them at risk even if the park itself were operating normally. (Plus there’s a scary boat ride through a tunnel that’s reminiscent of the Wonka one – and which seems likely to get incorporated into a real-life theme park ride at some point.)

But of course the park isn’t operating normally, as this series takes place simultaneously with the sanguinary events of the fourth theatrical movie, Jurassic World; and there’s no all-powerful Willy Wonka to help them out. Instead there are a couple of well-meaning camp counselors; but once the events of Jurassic World begin to unfold offscreen, the Cretaceous kids get separated from the counselors pretty quickly, and end up trying to make their way across the dinosaur-infested island alone. (They do adopt a cute baby dinosaur along the way – one of the few bits of kiddification to make it into the later episodes.)

While the Cretaceous kids don’t systematically map on to their Wonka counterparts (they hardly could, since there are six Cretaceous kids [at least to begin with] and only five Wonka kids), the earnest main protagonist Darius, the wealthy and arrogant Kenji, and the social media celebrity Brooklynn are somewhat reminiscent of Charlie Bucket, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teavee respectively. None of the Cretaceous kids, however, is as one-dimensional or as unsympathetic as the spoiled brats in the Wonka tale; despite their various imperfections, each one has a solid core of decency that makes their perils especially riveting and suspenseful for the viewer. (One might think “how suspenseful can it be? it’s not like they’re going to kill the kids off.” Well, while watching it I felt pretty confident that they weren’t going to kill all the kids off, but I felt increasingly less confident that they weren’t going to kill any of them. How things turn out I’ll decline to say. However, the series has been picked up for a second season – from which you may be inclined to infer that the first season doesn’t end with either everyone dead or everyone rescued. I’m not telling, though. After all, the second season might involve all new characters. Don’t watch the teaser for season 2 until you’ve finished season 1.)

The idiocy of the “these ones are herbivores, so not dangerous” line from the original movie (written by someone evidently unfamiliar with bulls, moose, rhinos, etc.) also gets lampshaded here, so that was nice.

Anyway, I recommend.


From Pico to Nano

In my latest Agoric Café video, I chat with biologist James T. Bradley about the future of, and ethical issues surrounding, biotechnology and nanotechnology; global and civic responsibilities of scientists and of laypeople; intimations of immortality from William Godwin to Ray Kurzweil; the importance of interdisciplinary education, and of instruction in evolutionary biology; the 15th-century (trans)humanism of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and the perils of invoking the Pope; Bradley’s three-week plan for solving a pandemic; the potential parallels between central planning for sociopolitical systems and central planning for ecosystems; the cosmological theories of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; that time the National Science Foundation awarded Bradley and myself a $200,000 grant (but we had to spend it all on, like, course stuff); how the universe uses stardust to become self-conscious; and the waning allure of cricket ovaries:


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